The impact of digital media on civic engagement is a subject of contentious debate. While some emphasize the corrosive influence of disinformation and hate culture, others see opportunities for reform and emancipatory movements. Alternative Futures endeavours to stimulate a forward-looking discourse on digital platform design and governance, fostering collaboration between German and Indian civil society institutions and researchers in the pursuit of enhanced civic engagement.
During the two-day workshops held in New Delhi and Kolkata, we engaged digital experts and activists in discussions about the future of digital platforms, and their insights have been translated into artworks.
For a larger cultural shift to happen in the space of digital media, we need more marginalised communities to be the agents of their stories. We need an abundance of media created by LGBTQIA+, Muslim, and other marginalised communities with access to the right skills, resources and networks where media is produced. What emerges from the margins also needs to be platformed and distributed along mainstream channels to allow historically silenced voices an equal chance of being heard.
Much in digital media requires transformation, but if I could wave a wand and change something it would probably be an increase in digital literacy worldwide. This would empower users to navigate the digital ecosystem and assess the credibility of information available online.
Aishwarya Giridhar, Centre for Communication Governance
Deceptive designs and dark patterns on digital media, which may compel a user to make a sub-conscious decision, which they might have otherwise not taken, is one aspect of digital media that I would like to change. Information asymmetry between the user and the media provider/owner further deepens a user's lack of control over decision-making and autonomy, working to the detriment of the user.
How digital media are affecting civic engagement is debated controversially. For many, the corrosive effect due to disinformation campaigns and hate culture is in the foreground. Others expect reforms of the public space, increasing pressure on technology companies by governments and activists, and point to emancipatory movements such as #blacktwitter and #metoo.
Researchers have outlined the various connections between capitalism, financial markets, digital platforms, and the polarisation of society. Digital capitalism, in which profit is generated from information, stirs up resentment and thus also endangers key functionalities of the public space. On X (Twitter), the public sphere becomes a business model, opinions become information that can be capitalised on, resulting in echo chambers and intensifying resentment. Concerns about the rise of hateful commentaries and harmful and manipulative interactions in some online spaces, as well as concerns about the role of tech companies in all this, have led to efforts by tech activists to redesign online spaces to facilitate debate, improve civility, and provide personal safety.
It is against this backdrop that Goethe-Institut, in collaboration with Digital Futures Lab, Quicksand and Superrr Lab, aims to foster a forward-looking discussion around the design, governance, and operational dynamics of digital platforms. Through a series of workshops and discussions, the project seeks to bring together German and Indian civil society institutions and researchers from relevant fields to facilitate collective ideation along overarching themes of digital communication, platform design and governance, and civic engagement.